The Power of Community

Ostriches

By Diane Braun, Courier & Press, March 8, 2016 –

Have you ever wondered why some people in a community have better overall outcomes than others, why some youth do well in school while others do not, and how people in the same community can have unequal health status? And have you ever wondered what you can do to change this?

Organizations that focus on making changes in community issues use risk and protective factors to determine their local needs. In our state, the Indiana Youth Survey is given to students in grades 6-12 annually and focuses on risk and protective factors. Students answer survey questions anonymously, and this data is used to identify local factors.

A risk factor is an aspect of a person’s life, environment or experiences that makes them more likely to develop a given problem. A protective factor is that person’s same life, environment and experiences that make them less likely to develop a problem.

For example, a youth who lives within a family with a history of alcoholism has the risk factor for becoming an alcoholic. Parents who talk to their child about alcohol and don’t abuse it themselves create a protective factor for their child.

Through environmental strategies which focus on an entire community rather than individuals and small groups, positive changes can be accomplished. For example, when dealing with prescription drug abuse among youth, strategies might include providing a cabinet-locking mechanism for all prescriptions, preventing youth from accessing pills in the home.

Drug disposal and take-back programs can also be effective to counter unused drugs being kept in homes. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, family management programs such as Strengthening Families, offered by Youth First, can help families learn the risk factors for adolescent drug use (such as parental tolerance for drugs) to achieve reductions in risky behavior.

Using these risk and protective factors as a guide, Youth First has been a part of a national and statewide initiative, the Communities That Care process, which is a way for communities to prevent substance abuse, juvenile delinquency, teen pregnancy, violence, school dropout and behavioral health issues. The CTC process uses evidence-based strategies which have been researched and proven to make positive changes in individuals and communities.

A community coalition is comprised of community stakeholders – service providers, residents, community and business leaders, educators, government officials, law enforcement officers, and others – who combine human and financial resources to address a particular issue or set of issues within the community.

Coalitions, by mobilizing the community, have helped change public policy and have empowered residents by giving them a sense of ownership and investment. These coalitions meet on a regular basis to assess the needs of the community and share resources.

For more information about local Communities That Care coalitions and to find out what is being done to address risk factors in your community, go to the Youth First website: youthfirstinc.org.